Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Introduction: Contours and Context Segment 10/17
Previous segment |Next segment | Contents | Archive | ZNet

5. Varieties of Infamy

The quincentenary provided many opportunities to examine "the murder of history," apart from the obvious ones. Some were taken. The 500th year opened in October 1991 with a flood of commentary on the 50th anniversary of Japan's December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. There was wonder and dismay over Japan's singular unwillingness to acknowledge its guilt for "the date which will live in infamy," and sober ruminations on Japan's disgraceful "self-pity" and refusal to offer reparations to its victims, its "clumsy attempts to sanitize the past," and failure to "come forward with a definitive statement of wartime responsibility," as Tokyo correspondent Steven Weisman framed the issues in a New York Times Magazine cover story on "Pearl Harbor in the Mind of Japan." These deliberations were carefully crafted to highlight Japan's major crime: its "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor. Among the issues scrupulously excised were the US attitude towards Japan's horrifying rampages before the infamous date, and the great power interactions that lie not very deep in the background. And one would have to search diligently for a discussion of the proper rank, in the scale of atrocities, of an attack on a naval base in a US colony that had been stolen from its inhabitants by force and guile just 50 years earlier -- another part of the background that slipped by virtually unnoticed, as did the centenary of the latter deed in January 1993.

More remarkable still was another anniversary passed over in silence at the very same moment: the thirtieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's escalation of the US intervention in South Vietnam. Autumn 1961 was a fateful moment in the history of US assault against Indochina, one of the most shameful and destructive episodes of the 500-year conquest.

On October 11, 1961, Kennedy ordered dispatch of a US Air Force Farmgate squadron to South Vietnam, 12 planes especially equipped for counterinsurgency warfare, soon authorized "to fly coordinated missions with Vietnamese personnel in support of Vietnamese ground forces." On December 16, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, whom JFK had put in charge of running the war, authorized their participation in combat operations against southerners resisting the violence of the US-imposed terror state or living in villages out of government control. These were the first steps in engaging US forces directly in bombing and other combat operations in South Vietnam from 1962, along with sabotage missions in the North. These 1961-1962 actions laid the groundwork for the huge expansion of the war in later years, with its awesome toll.21

State terror had already taken perhaps 75,000 lives in the southern sector of Vietnam since Washington took over the war directly in 1954. But the 1954-1961 crimes were of a different order: they belong to the category of crimes that Washington conducts routinely, either directly or through its agents, in its various terror states. In the fall and winter of 1961-1962, Kennedy added the war crime of aggression to the already sordid record, also raising the attack to new heights.

6. Varieties of Crime

Not all crimes are of the same order; it is worthwhile to distinguish terror from aggression, however academic the distinction may seem to the victims. To illustrate, take a contemporary example, one of those that receives little notice and that demonstrates, once again, the utter irrelevance of the conventional Cold War pretexts served up by the murderers of history when public concern over criminal actions has to be allayed. Consider Colombia, second only to El Salvador as a recipient of US military aid in Latin America. The State Department Country Reports for 1990 states that "Members and units of the army and the police participated in a disturbing number of human rights violations including extrajudicial executions, torture, and massacres." "Yet no security assistance has been withheld as a result of widespread violations by aid recipients" (the security forces), Americas Watch comments. In fiscal 1991, Colombia received $27.1 million in military assistance and $20 million in police aid, along with $50 million in Economic Support Funds for counter-narcotics assistance -- funds commonly used for repression, with no drug connection, as widely reported. In March 1990, two high-ranking Colombian generals informed Congress that "the generals would use $38.5 million of the $40.3 million originally appropriated for fiscal year 1990 counter-narcotics assistance for counter-insurgency support in areas where narcotics trafficking was nonexistent," Americas Watch notes, citing a congressional report.

For fiscal year 1992, Colombia was scheduled to receive $58 million in military assistance and $20 million for the police; the same amount was requested for fiscal 1993. From 1988 to 1991, US military aid to Colombia increased sevenfold, keeping pace with atrocities by the security forces. The 117 US military advisers are more than twice the number allowed by Congress for El Salvador (whatever the actual numbers may have been). Over 3000 cases of abuse by police and military were reported from January 1990 to April 1991, according to a study by the Colombian Attorney General, including 68 massacres, 560 murders, 664 cases of torture, and 616 disappearances. This is apart from the atrocities carried out by paramilitary groups that operate with the tolerance of the government, if not direct participation. As usual in the US-backed terror states, the major targets are political dissidents, union leaders, and others who seek to organize the rabble, thus interfering with the service role assigned to the South.22

Go to the next segment.

21 FRUSV, I, 343; III, 4n. Gibbons, US Government, 701, citing Air Force history.

22 Americas Watch, Political Murder and Reform in Colombia: the Violence Continues (New York, 1992), citing State Department Country Reports, 1990, and House Committee on Government Operations, Stopping the Flood of Cocaine with Operation Snowcap: Is it Working?, Aug. 14, 1990, pp. 834. Jorge Gómez Lizarro, human rights activist and former Judge, "Colombian Blood, U.S. Guns," NYT, OpEd, Jan. 28, 1992.